60

The debate about democracy (whatever that means)

Paul Wells on Greece’s bailout vote and the ‘essentially contested concept’ of democracy


 
Chris Wattie/Reuters

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Nobody should be held too meticulously to account for something they wrote on Twitter before dinner on a Sunday, but sometimes things just pop out. Niki Ashton is the 32-year-old member of Parliament for Churchill, Man. Her mother is Greek, Ashton speaks Greek and she was, in 2011, married in Greece, so you will understand that she has been watching the negotiations between the Greek government and the European Union closely.

When it became clear that Greeks had voted “No,” by more than 60 per cent, to bailout conditions set by European Union institutions and the International Monetary Fund, Ashton was over the moon. “NO to austerity!” she tweeted. “YES to democracy!”

That was enough to set off Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative government’s minister of employment. “NDP policy: Be like Greece,” he tweeted. Poilievre is often a step ahead of broader Conservative messaging. Sure enough, a day later, Joe Oliver, the finance minister, was in Vancouver sounding a lot like Poilievre. Canada succeeds because it made good decisions, Oliver said; Greece fails because it makes bad decisions; and the NDP and Liberals are urging Canadians to make bad decisions of the kind that have all but sunk Greece.

Ashton dithered briefly when she discovered she was in a fight. First she said she was “expressing a personal opinion,” not NDP policy. Then she declared that, having “seen what friends and family are going through in Greece,” she would make “no apologies.” But I’m stuck on that word “democracy,” as she applied it to this business in Greece.

Is anyone actually against democracy, after all? Surely not. But democracy is a tricky word. It can mean all sorts of things, or something close to nothing at all.

Take the vote Greece just went through. It was the first time Greeks had been asked to vote on a single question in 41 years. The country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, gave his countrymen eight days’ notice. (Scots knew the date of their independence referendum, and the wording of the question, 18 months in advance.) The Greek ballot question was long and referred to two annexes, one from the EU and one from the International Monetary Fund, that were written in English and had no official Greek translations. The proposal those documents described no longer existed by the time Greeks voted, because it depended on continued debt repayments the Greek government had already failed to make.

Tsipras called for a No vote that would, he claimed, reject the EU’s stated terms for Greece’s continued participation in the euro; force the EU to improve its offer; and keep Greece in the euro. That’s quite a bank shot. Most of it was beyond the capacity of any (democratically elected, one might say) Greek government to deliver. There was no time or forum for a calm debate over the merits of the options. And as is inevitable in referendums, people could vote No for reasons that had nothing to do with Tsipras’s: some because they actually did want out of the euro or the EU, others because they hoped for chaos that would wreck Tsipras’s government. In the absence of another vote on the proper meaning to assign to this one, who’s to say?

Inevitably, EU pols responded to Tsipras’s claims about democracy with some of their own. “Remember that we are, in the eurozone, 19 democracies,” Finland’s finance minister, Alexander Stubb, told reporters in Brussels. “I come to this meeting with a very clear and strict mandate from my parliament and my government.” Stubb’s government could have called a referendum inviting Tsipras to stuff it. Finns might have given that notion a hearty Yes. How happily would Niki Ashton cheer for democracy then?

But there I go, using one of the most loaded words in any language, “democracy,” to score cheap debating points. It’s hard to resist the temptation. We do it all the time in Canadian politics. When a cabal of opposition politicians wanted to supplant the Conservative government at the end of 2008, they said they were serving parliamentary democracy. When Harper fought back, he made similar claims. In 2009 and 2010 and 2011, every time Michael Ignatieff thought he might defeat the minority government of the day, it was easy to find observers who’d ask what could be wrong with a little democracy. As if only an election is democracy. As if Parliament isn’t an expression of democracy.

Now there are rumours Harper will call the election much earlier than mid-September while keeping Oct. 19 as election day, effectively stretching the campaign long past the five-week minimum set in law. Suddenly a lot of the people who used to be eager to see a campaign are less eager. Suddenly they’re not sure they like the rules of the fight.

“Democracy” is what the Scottish philosopher W.B. Gallie called an “essentially contested concept,” a notion everyone can praise in the abstract while disagreeing, honestly and in good faith, about almost every detail of any given case. (Gallie listed “art” and “duty” as other essentially contested concepts. Art is wonderful and everyone should do his duty, but is that mess on the wall art, and what’s my duty today?) Debate is at the heart of democracy, or should be. But appeals to democracy are usually designed to shut debate down, not to deepen it.

As for Ashton’s other favourite word, “austerity,” don’t even get me started.


 

The debate about democracy (whatever that means)

  1. Before this marathon election campaign is over, I suspect individual politicians of every persuasion will be scrambling to “take back” inevitable Twitter gaffes, by echoing Ashton’s qualifier that they’re merely personal opinion, not party policy. The medium invites digital pratfalls and, in a political free-for-all, I predict there will be many.

    • I’m sure they’ll ask for a social media mulligan, but personally I’m going to regard the gaffes as another test of character. Thinking before you speak or act is a trait I find rather desirable in any leader. When I took scuba training, one of the key lessons was “Stop. Breathe. Think. Act.” – definitely a lesson for life.

  2. I’m not surprised Niki Ashton was in favour of the vote…after all, her Canadian version of Greek political life (NDP POLICY) is exactly what she wants.

    Unfortunately, enacting the policies the NDP and Nikki approves of, always ends in the same result. Promise to support your electoral base with other peoples’ money…and this is the result you get.

    Greeks who were actually productive, found ways to move their money out of the country, or simply avoided paying taxes. Failing that, many simply stopped trying. After all…why should one bust their hump to make money and get ahead, when the Government of the day simply steals it from you for re-distribution to those who would rather live on handouts, as opposed to earning their own way?

    Socialist policies are based on class warfare, envy, and the knowledge that they can always rely on the fearful to gain votes. One just has to look at the crop of NDP supporters and what they actually produce (not much) for the economy. NDP supporters are not looking for a better country with a sound economy; based upon sound policy, they are simply voting for whomever promises to give them the most freebies stolen from those who are actually productive.

    • NOT paying their taxes is what got them into trouble

      NDP and left-wingers generally believe in paying taxes.

      I’m afraid you’re blaming the wrong culprit.

      • No Emily,

        People avoided paying taxes that were too high. It is illegal, but when a Government takes more from you than you think it should be taking….people take their own actions.

        Of course NDP’ers and left wingers believe in Taxes. Most of them don’t pay them. they want even higher taxes, because they know they get all of the benefit, without actually having to expend any additional effort.

        the culprit, are the politicians who take advantage of this fear and ignorance simply to gain power. Read Orwell (1984). The Inner Party folks……are NDP’ers at heart.

        • You don’t know anything about this situation do ya….. Yer just spitting tea leaves.

          • Actually, Emily…..

            I’ve been following this for years. What has happened, is exactly what I wrote would happen.

            Frankly, Maggie Thatcher beat me to it by many years. She warned everyone about this when she was PM. As usual…..she was right, but people would prefer not to admit it.

        • So which party in Canada is most addicted to using fear to solicit votes?
          I need clarification.

          • LOL Harper the Hun.

        • LOL if you’d been following it for many years, you’d actually know something about it. You don’t,

          • Great rebuttal……

            But I’m not surprised you fail to address the issue.

            Please remain clueless…..Trudeau depends upon folks like you.

          • Where did you every get the idea that unsubstantiated assertions require rebuttal, or that rebuttal would consist of anything more than simply stating the opposite of the assertions?

          • There is no ‘issue’ James.

            Just your empty campaign hype.

            I’m not required to listen to it.

          • Oh I don’t know, the Libs have done really well with some scare tactics. That commercial with soldiers patrolling the streets if the cons win was likely one of the best scare tactics ever. Also, JT saying he would separate with Quebec because he doesn’t want to live in the kind of Canada Harper has created was another really good one.

          • I’m not sure “done really well” describes the situation if the best example you can cite is an ad that never made it to air because it was roundly condemned.

    • You are a very lucky person who has never needed the benefits of taxes.
      Special needs, the disabled, yes the unlucky in accident or birth or disease. Damn class warfare the basis of all these socialist policies.

      • J.W.

        the issues is not Taxes…the issue is paying TOO MUCH in taxes.

        If you ran your household the way Greek politicians have been running the country for the last 30 years……you would be insolvent as well.

        the difference of course, is that if you held a vote in your household demanding your neighbours pay your bills……you would rightly be laughed out of town.

        • You can pay low taxes and handle seniors care, education, Doctors appointments and surgery on your own. Not to mention the pot holes and gridlock, uninspected meat.
          I prefer high taxes with 3 good meals a day at even the basic level nursing home.
          Of course you could use Harper’s day care model and let the people who know the best how to care for their parents, we call them sons and daughters, keep their tax dollars in the form of credits and look after their parents themselves. That would,in case you forgot, avoid a huge wasteful government seniors care bureaucracy?

          • I don’t mind paying low taxes….or even medium taxes, as long as the money is being spent wisely. Taxes too high, or being wasted; then it becomes a concern.

            as for your other points:
            I’m not surprised you prefer high taxes, as you probably don’t have to pay them. As I wrote earlier, some folks want others’ to pay their way through life. you know…like providing them 3 free meals a day. Just say thanks to me for paying for your lifestyle…and move along.

          • I love using the seniors example; it drives you guys crazy and it ends up tying you up in knots.
            But I like to think about where austerity with massive staff and service cuts will eventually lead us.

          • The seniors example makes me crazy because I don’t understand why you aren’t encouraging Canadians to save some money for their retirement. Everyone is upset about Canadian’s personal debt but no one is increasing RRSP contribution limits and political parties are actually going after tax free saving accounts. If these young people save enough for their retirement, they won’t qualify for the old age pension money. How great is that!

          • For Gage G.

            The pensions are supposed to be universal….everyone gets them

            Which is good because most people can’t save for retirement…..it’s why we have heavy personal debt.

          • Emily wrote:
            “The pensions are supposed to be universal….everyone gets them

            Which is good because most people can’t save for retirement…..it’s why we have heavy personal debt.”

            Emily, the problem of course, is that folks who piss away their money, or don’t bother to save (sort of like you) will be a drain until they finally kick off.

            As for not having enough to “save for retirement”….please go back and look at the comments about high taxes. You may ask WHY folks don’t have the money to save for retirement. The answer is pretty obvious. When a Government takes a huge chuck of what you earn….you have little left to save. (please see what the Liberals under McGinty, and Wynne are currently doing to Ontario).

            Of course, none of this matters to you, as you have always relied on folks like me to pay your way. Just say thanks……and move along.

    • I’m sure it’s a hoot to be unencumbered by the constraints of reality and make up whatever suits your fancy, but the fantasies are best kept to yourself.
      In the real world, the more educated you are the more likely you are to be employed and the higher your income is likely to be – and the more likely you are to support the NDP.

      http://www.ekospolitics.com/index.php/2015/07/race-narrowing-again/

      • Capax

        I did not see the income level (or taxes paid) in the EKOS poll at all. There are a lot of University graduates who do not have well paying jobs and pay high taxes.

          • Emily,

            What would you know about PAYING taxes?

            I suspect that you are in favour of increasing taxes simply because it means more goodies for you…without actually have to EARN anything.

            I pay more in income taxes than most people make. Just say thanks…and move along.

          • Just curious, do you know emilyone or is this comment, like your last, sprung entirely from your imagination?

          • For Tresus

            No one on here knows me. Jimmy just bloviates.

      • It would be truly interesting to see a breakdown of the university educated vote by discipline. I suspect that doctors and engineers aren’t swinging the same way as art history and greek&roman studies majors, for example.

        • When only 1 in 5 university grads support you, it’s hard to imagine that you’re capturing the majority of any discipline.

          • Presumably you’re referring to the CPC share of the university educated vote. If so, then let’s note that the LPC + CPC share exceeds the NDP share.

            Nonetheless, a very different question from the one I raised: how does the university educated vote break down by discipline?

          • Their combined share of the university educated vote only exceeds the NDP’s by a few points. And while the the Liberals’ share is close to their share of the overall vote, the Cons’ share is well below it.
            You could compare MPs degrees, but the results will presumably be skewed by all the lawyers.
            Unsurprisingly, the Conservative cabinet is as uneducated as it’s voters:
            http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/12/13/Canadian-Conservatives-Education/

          • On closer look, I have an issue or 2 with the Environics survey.

            It tops out at a *household* income level of $100K. So a household with 2 people each earning $50K is in the same category as a 1 person household earning $150K, despite the fact that the tax implications for the 2 different households are significantly different. And, let’s face it, taxes do affect how people vote.

            Additionally, for example, an 18-22 year old student with no significant income whose parents earn $100K total is lumped into the same category as the hypothetical single $150K earner. Tax implications for the student vs the $150K person are ludicrously different – the student is much less likely to put much consideration into fiscal considerations when considering who to vote for than the $150K person.

            So, the combination of looking at only household income (vs individual income) and topping out at $100K, quite possibly makes the results less useful than they could be.

            IMO Environics should have:
            1) Had income bands above $100K (e.g. $150K, $200K, $500K).
            2) Also shown a breakdown by individual income level in addition to a breakdown by household income level.

          • [repeated from above as stupid commenting system makes followups needlessly painful]

            On closer look, I have an issue or 2 with the Environics survey.

            It tops out at a *household* income level of $100K. So a household with 2 people each earning $50K is in the same category as a 1 person household earning $150K, despite the fact that the tax implications for the 2 different households are significantly different. And, let’s face it, taxes do affect how people vote.

            Additionally, for example, an 18-22 year old student with no significant income whose parents earn $100K total is lumped into the same category as the hypothetical single $150K earner. Tax implications for the student vs the $150K person are ludicrously different – the student is much less likely to put much consideration into fiscal considerations when considering who to vote for than the $150K person.

            So, the combination of looking at only household income (vs individual income) and topping out at $100K, quite possibly makes the results less useful than they could be.

            IMO Environics should have:
            1) Had income bands above $100K (e.g. $150K, $200K, $500K).
            2) Also shown a breakdown by individual income level in addition to a breakdown by household income level.

          • It would be more interesting to see the levels of support of the various parties, compared to earned income; not just education level.

            After all, there are a lot of folks who believe they are “educated” because they have a University Degree. But given some of the folks I met at University, the reality may surprise some. I met a lot of real dips at University……and half of them were professors. If they had to rely on getting a real job…they’d all starve or collect welfare.

        • Why would their degree make a difference?

          • Spoken like a true “progressive” Emily.

            that is why progressives tend to get degrees in useless fields such as womyn studies, or gender studies…philosphy..etc..etc…

            Math are hard.

            (but jobs requiring advanced math skills do pay better)

            If someone graduates University and can’t find a job outside of serving Starbucks, they have only to look at the certificate on the wall indicating a major in Women’s studies, or Latin poetry…etc..etc…

            If you want a well-paying job, then go into a field of study that is actually being demanded by employers. No one wants to hire someone with a degree in victimhood.

          • James, it does you no good at all to pretend you’re paying everybody’s bills.

            You just sound silly.

            You’re a middle class bean-counter.

          • And math is not hard James….it also doesn’t pay very well

          • Emily wrote:

            “James, it does you no good at all to pretend you’re paying everybody’s bills.

            You just sound silly.”

            Not paying everyone’s bills Emily…..but most likely helping to pay for yours.

          • Emily wrote:
            “And math is not hard James….it also doesn’t pay very well”

            Well, I can agree to a point. Math is not hard….for me. Many others’ seem to have an issue with it however, as that was one of the main factors students use to choose their major.

            As for it not paying well….hmmm….maybe not math at the level to which you are accustomed; but for me, it seems to be quite lucrative.

            Your envy is showing. Just say thanks, and take your meds.

          • I suspect the degree would make a difference because it would be a key determinant of income level. And income level would have a reasonably high correlation with voting intentions – e.g., the highly paid doctor or engineer is unlikely to vote for the party that traditionally wants to “tax the rich”; and the low paid greek&roman studies grad is more likely to vote for the party that does want to “tax the rich” and redistribute some of that extra tax revenue his way.

            BTW, FWIW apparently math does pay reasonably well. It’s one of the STEM disciplines. Fun fact, it used to be that when you graduated from the University of Waterloo in computer science, your degree was a B.Sc. in math (apparently it is now in either computer science or math).

          • No James, you’re not paying my bills….or anyone elses….I doubt you’re even able to pay your own.

          • Well, the Environics survey does indeed seem to indicate that income level is not a terribly good predictor of voter intention. So, assuming it’s reasonably accurate, I concede the point for this point in time. All bets are off if major policy changes in taxation are forthcoming.

            However, the survey results also show that the share of vote increases for NDP and CPC with increasing income starting at $50K, whereas the LPC vote actually decreases and hits its lowest point on everything above $80K. This could be related to Mulcair stating that a NDP government would not increase income taxes, coupled with the LPC plan to increase income taxes on income levels above $200K, thus making the LPC the new “tax the rich” party.

          • [one last try at getting this comment placed right (or at least less wrong)]

            On closer look, I have an issue or 2 with the Environics survey.

            It tops out at a *household* income level of $100K. So a household with 2 people each earning $50K is in the same category as a 1 person household earning $150K, despite the fact that the tax implications for the 2 different households are significantly different. And, let’s face it, taxes do affect how people vote.

            Additionally, for example, an 18-22 year old student with no significant income whose parents earn $100K total is lumped into the same category as the hypothetical single $150K earner. Tax implications for the student vs the $150K person are ludicrously different – the student is much less likely to put much consideration into fiscal considerations when considering who to vote for than the $150K person.

            So, the combination of looking at only household income (vs individual income) and topping out at $100K, quite possibly makes the results less useful than they could be.

            IMO Environics should have:
            1) Had income bands above $100K (e.g. $150K, $200K, $500K).
            2) Also shown a breakdown by individual income level in addition to a breakdown by household income level.

          • Sure the numbers could be better if you want to determine exactly which income brackets support which parties, but clearly jameshalifax’s ‘NDPers don’t pay taxes’ fantasy isn’t hiding in there.

    • I just read an article linked the Washington Post (sorry I tried to link here but couldn’t get it to work) that claimed before the global recession (2007, 2008) “the average Greek did not claim 92% of what they made” in taxes yet they applied to their banks for mortgages so the banks knew they what their real incomes were. How did the government not know this? Why didn’t they go after people for tax evasion and collect the taxes?

      • Does your bank know what you pay in taxes?

        Also there were Greek leaders like Papandreou who did not care, as long as they were leaders.

        It was the political system that failed Greece….a culture of Zorba the Greek

  3. I know this wasn’t Paul’s point, but I don’t think anyone ever regarded the European Parliament in Brussels as a model of democracy. Like Ashton, I like the Greek version better.
    Ask the Brits about Brussels.

  4. The problem with Ashton’s comment is that she completely misunderstands the choice in the Greek referendum.

    The choice was (1) slow strangulation by austerity imposed by the IMF (i.e. the United States), the ECB (i.e. banksters), and the EU (Germany) OR (2) setting themselves on fire.

    (2) The Greeks “setting themselves on fire” is probably the right choice, but the hardship is likely to be much greater in the short term. If they can endure the pain and hardship they will come out better in the long run a la Iceland. But it will be a journey through hell to get there.

    But Greece may yet cave once they see the short term pain, and/or the United State and Europe may engineer a coup, rather than let Russia and China gain a foothold in Europe. If Greece gets its own currency, Russia and China are likely to be the largest investors in Greece. [Which is why the IMF (i.e. the US) has flip-flopped and saying their should be debt relief.]

  5. For James R

    I don’t know where you get the idea that degrees in ‘greeks and romans’ don’t pay well….you might try checking out salaries sometime. Same with STEM disciplines.

    There aren’t many wealthy mathematicians. Or scientists either.

    • ” From a financial point-of-view, the most lucrative fields of study for first jobs right now are Computer Science, Engineering, Law, Math, and Healthcare.”

      http://www.workopolis.com/content/advice/article/the-university-degrees-that-earn-the-highest-starting-salaries/

      Granted, someone with a pure science degree doesn’t seem to be able to do that well.

      However, there is nothing to suggest that a humanities degree (e.g., greek&roman studies) will get you much of anything.

      • That’s because you didn’t check it out.

        Here’s one from Macleans in 2012

        Law and healthcare btw aren’t STEM

        You need to decide if you’re talking about jobs or professions….and know that none of those choices will make you wealthy

  6. Its a farce when democracy become criminal behavior.

    I say this as making or taking a loan that never will be repaid, running a pyramid debt fraud scheme, using other peoples money” is well, a high moral crime called larceny theft and conspiracy to fraud.

    And just because you lent freeloaders int he past some money, does not obligate you to continue the crime and lend more of other peoples money.

    Its also why western fiat money is losing value and the system is failing. Too much economics fraud, money for nothing bailouts, debt welshing, devalued money….all forms of theft from freeloaders and criminals.

    Pretty obvious the people, politicians, bankers are morally depraved people. As the only ethical solution is to PAGo, Pay As You Go and no more larceny debt fraud theft of other peoples money as your undisciplined greedy freeloader fools.

  7. We will ourselves in person to this war,
    And for (because) OUR COFFERS with too great a court
    And liberal largess are grown somewhat light,
    We are enforced TO FARM OUR ROYAL REALM,
    The REVENUE whereof shall frunish us
    For our affairs in hand. If that come short,
    Our substitutes (deputies) at home shall have BLANK CHARTERS,
    Whereto, when they sall know WHAT MEN ARE RICH,
    They sall subscribe them FOR LARGE SUMS OF GOLD,
    And send them after to supply our wants…
    Richard Second (1377-99)

  8. Democracy:

    Farce, a ruse, the perception of a vote maters when the ballots are rigged, lobby bought options all seeing to use the tax man for uncommon good. No recall, no referendum, no direct binding vote by anyone outside of governemtn means politicians can freely ignore the people as they are in fact, term dictators sponsored by lobby groups. Many countries like Canada even broadcasters like CBC that push the “other peoples money” greed, cor[prate union welfare, using the tax man to punish productive workers, savers, investors to feed the growing functionality.

    Needless to say, CBCs job is to push the propaganda, support government welfare for nothing, after all, they get a billion of corporate-union welfare. CBC only wants Harper hate, as Harper had the audacity to cut CBCs corporate-union welfare a bit.

    We are a corrupt country failing with 78 cent dollars, too much unproductive consumption and not enough for productive, savers, investors and pensions. Devaluing the money as they can’t tax us more for the pyramid debt schemes. Reminds me of why the Roman Empire fell, tin money and corrupt politics.

Sign in to comment.